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R-Type (Arcade) artwork

R-Type (Arcade) review

"Back in the days of my youth, my parents bought me a Rubik’s Cube. Even though the objective was simple (make all the squares on each side the same color), that confounded cube still proved capable of captivating me. I spent hours, days and even weeks staring at it and manipulating it in an attempt to “solve” what appeared to be an impossible puzzle before finally losing interest in it and casting it into my “Box of Abandoned Toys” (likely with each side still an amalgam of different colors). I ..."

Back in the days of my youth, my parents bought me a Rubik’s Cube. Even though the objective was simple (make all the squares on each side the same color), that confounded cube still proved capable of captivating me. I spent hours, days and even weeks staring at it and manipulating it in an attempt to “solve” what appeared to be an impossible puzzle before finally losing interest in it and casting it into my “Box of Abandoned Toys” (likely with each side still an amalgam of different colors). I thought I was free of its powerful attraction...

And then I found the gaming equivalent of the Rubik’s Cube — R-Type. An ancient (1987) Irem shooter, R-Type is ugly and mind-numbingly difficult — but will draw you in, forcing you to continue playing and playing as you slowly inch through eight stages of frustrating, yet addicting, action. You’ll die multitudes of times, forcing you to slam quarter after quarter into the machine’s coin slot — but you’ll keep going because of one simple truth about this game. No matter how brutally difficult it may get and no matter how blatantly unfair a few sections seem to be, R-Type is NOT cheap.

Instead, Irem created one of the most intricately devised shooters of all-time. A game where every action has a purpose and even the slightest error in timing will result in disaster. A game where fast reflexes are needed one minute and amazing memorization skills are needed the next. A game that draws you in with a gentle introductory level or two before deciding to throw everything but the kitchen sink at you.

Sure, R-Type starts out tame. As you approach the base of the evil Bydo Empire, you’ll encounter a few meek enemies that seem only to exist in order to give you the opportunity to strengthen your ship by collecting its force pod. This handy little gizmo not only can block some enemy attacks, but also is a multi-functional attack item. You can wear the pod on your ship’s front or back and, if you so desire, temporarily eject it to independently assault enemies before collecting it again. With your pod attached to your ship, collecting power-ups takes on a new importance. While some, such as the speed and missile power-ups, enhance your actual ship, there are a few pod-specific additions which give you the added ability to fire multi-directional bouncing lasers, thick wave-like blasts or streams of fire that travel along the top and bottom of the screen. You’ll also find smaller orbs that fit on the top and bottom of your ship to bestow even more protection. And, it won’t take long to discover that by holding down the fire button, you can charge up your blaster to emit a burst powerful enough to eradicate even the most durable of foes in short order.

With all that said, R-Type doesn’t sound too hard, does it? A ship with this much power, defense and versatility should have no problems against one of those teeming hordes of generic alien factions you tend to go up against in these games. All I can say is that if you take that mindset into this game, prepare to watch your pride take a beating as you die, die and die some more — always thinking that if you only could have just done one tiny thing a little bit better, you wouldn’t be forced to fish for another quarter.

Like I said, that first level isn’t really that tough. You’ll have to shoot your way through a good number of foes, but likely won’t be overwhelmed, and while the boss is quite imposing on a visual level, it falls without much resistance. You ought to even make it through the second level (or at least a good part of it) without much frustration, but things will then pick up dramatically.

The third level is extremely short, but loaded with action. All you have to do is eliminate all the guns surrounding an immense battleship and then wipe out the core. Easier said than done. To get to most of the targets on top of the ship (including the core), you’ll have to go under and around it, making yourself quite vulnerable to being shot in the back. Having the proper weapon (the bouncey laser worked for me) helps. Knowing how to manipulate the pod to maximize your ship’s effectiveness helps more.

And the challenge level only escalates from there. On the fourth level, you’ll find yourself fighting hordes of planes that leave a trail of green orbs behind them. Leave these foes alone for too long and the wide open space of this stage will turn into one gigantic, cluttered deathtrap with you praying your guns can clear enough of a path for you to safely fit through.

But maybe you should let that happen — it might prepare you for the diabolical sixth level! Not your ordinary base level, this stage should NOT be attempted by anyone with either blood pressure or anger management problems. The wall-hugging and flying enemies strewn throughout the narrow maze-like corridors of this area are mere distractions — the primary hazard comes from the large, mobile obstructions that grind through pathways, leaving you with hardly any room to maneuver. Sure, you can destroy them, but they take enough punishment for that to be more of an unexpected bonus than a feasible plan. What you’ll be stuck doing is sneaking into gaps and praying one of these obstacles doesn’t suddenly fly onto the screen on a collision course with your ship. Unfortunately, odds are those prayers won’t be answered and you’ll die. And then you’ll die again. And again, until you’ve figured out EXACTLY where you need to be at any given time. Coming after a fifth stage where my reflexes were tested more than my brain, this level is harsh, unforgiving and painful....and you still have two more to go.

Watch walls self-destruct as you fly by them in the seventh level — as if you needed another obstacle to overcome. You’d think the seemingly unending horde of regular enemies (which prefer to attack from the back and sides) would be enough of a hazard to your health and sanity, but once again, Irem raises the stakes. Fly too close to the ceiling or floor in this base at the wrong time and risk getting caught in an explosion, making memorization as key in this stage as it was in the last.

And then, endure the short final level — an easy corridor leading to a final boss that’s as rough as the legions of foes that guarded him so well. Hidden behind a shield, the master of the Bydo forces prefers to let his lackeys (an unlimited supply of strange, fetus-like monsters) make kamikaze dives in an attempt to put a final end to your mission. However, this fellow can only bear to watch so much failure from his subordinates before getting in on the action himself. Letting down his shield and making himself temporarily vulnerable in the process, he’ll attack by blasting out a magical orb that proceeds to chase you around his room. The longer the fight lasts, the tougher it gets as the orbs get more numerous and move faster — causing you to frantically zip around the lair hoping against hope that you can get just one more shot inside the shield before your luck runs out.

A tense, claustrophobic battle — just the perfect way to end a tense, claustrophobic game. Well, if you can call it an “ending”. After a tiny amount of “you saved the day!” text, you’re thrust right back into the fray on a tougher! difficulty level. That is, if you actually have the energy to withstand more of the assault that R-Type puts upon you, both mentally and physically. Personally, I didn’t care if there was a second quest....or even if my reward for enduring some of the most rigorous gaming challenges I’d ever seen was a mere block of text telling me I’d defeated the evil empire. All that mattered to me was that after suffering what seemed to be a million deaths, I’d finally conquered R-Type — which is more than I could say for that confounded Rubik’s Cube!

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (June 30, 2004)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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